Sit down, please. Or, if you’re already seated, readjust. Get
comfortable. Because the following review of Robot Restaurant requires a firm grounding to properly absorb.
Robot Restaurant. Oh sweet, sweet Robot Restaurant. If one were to break the title into its proper shares, it was 98% Robots, 1% Restaurant and 120% quaalude-induced madness.
Despite being located in a light-bedecked Shinjuku alleyway, its location is not hard to find. There are literally people riding robots around a roller-rink. To reach the actual venue, one goes down at least five flights of steps—that appear to have been decorated by a grenade filled with Ed Hardy designs—to a basement performance space. Patrons sit on glowing bleachers, opposite each other. The “stage” is in the center of the low-ceilinged, gadget-bedecked room. There are screens approximately everywhere. I apologize for the lack of pictures here, my group was running late and the sensory overload of the Ed Hardy explosionstairway had rendered me nearly useless.
Before the show began, I didn't know what to expect. By the time it ended, I still didn't. Let me explain.
Above is a Piano Valkyrie. That is a job title I made up. I don’t know what is on this man’s business card. But, when a professional pianist dressed in chrome armor plays on a roving, glowing platform, I think it’s safe to call him a Piano Valkyrie. You may also be wondering, “what are those two gentleman looking at?”
They are looking at this:
This is a singer in sexy, spiky armor. That is all.
Not pictured, are the violinist and jazz flautist who accompanied this soulful love ballad. “What was the song about?” you ask. It was about my inability to parse the reality of what my eyes were telling me. Certainly, there were words, notes, even a nice melody. The content of the song? As far as I could tell, it was about me screaming in a high C and looking at my dinner-mates to make certain we were all seeing the same thing.
You may be wondering where the “restaurant” angle comes in. Indeed, there is a meal available. You may reserve a bento box (read: an assortment of Japanese food-items that would only act as distraction to the shenanigans unfolding before you). Beer is also available—so very available.
And by available, I do not mean that it's freely dispensed at the bar. No no no. Beer is toted around by a keg-wearing young woman. Don't read that last sentence again. Please just trust that your mind comprehended what was just written. Now look below, to find your reading skills vindicated.
Yes, you are indeed ogling a woman wearing a keg on her back. Leave it to the Japanese to come up with a better way to serve beer. Beer on tap on back. Tap that back up. Barback. The taglines nearly write themselves.
After the musical twinkle knights had finished, the next act, as logic would require, was robot boxing.
Robot boxing happens to be exactly what you think it is, except without actual robots. Two men dressed in robot suits duked it out as a young woman shrieked something into a microphone. Lights flashed. Sound effects reverberated. Beer disappeared.
And here's where it begins to get hazy. Not the show itself, but the story that was unfolding. And it is an actual fact that there was supposed to be some sort of a storyline weaving these disparate parts into one strait-jacket tapestry. How, you ask, did they make sense of a sparkly knight band followed by robot boxing?
In fact, here’s the synopsis of the next chapter of the story as well as I understood it: the forest creatures were living happily until robot warmongers from space came to enslave them. This part involved giant spiders. There were pterodactyl riders. Also, at one point, there was an appearance by Kung Fu Panda. I apologize for not having photo evidence of this part of the show, but when one sees Kung Fu Panda ride in on a giant cow, one does not take a picture. One simply sits and treasures the feeling of their brain turning into a plush Hello Kitty doll.
Then, the battle being won by the forest creatures, women came out and rode a giant woman robot.
At this point, it’s not worth talking about the context or the idea, because the pictures tell about as much as is possible to glean from whatever whisp of a storyline they were following.
Let’s turn, then, to the more philosophical interpretation of what was witnessed. What is Robot Restaurant? The question can either be answered simply, or with moderate length.
The simple answer: it’s a laser-robot saturated, noisy, sparkling, impossibly fascinating dinner theatre performance.
The more involved answer: Robot Restaurant is the passionate vision of one addled degenerate savant, fully realized. Behind the spectacle of the costumes, the robots, the lasers, the seven hundred (or so) LCD screens covering the small basement space, is a mind-numbing amount of technical coordination and logistics. There had to be a minimum of 50 people involved in the show, from singers, to fiddlers to dancers to robot riders to robot controllers to glow-stick-hander-outers to generally insane people yelling English words without meaning.
The previous point actually deserves a brief digression. The dialogue seemed to be all in English. I say “seemed to be” because there was no actual way to discern what anyone was saying. Apart from the occasional exuberant “Yeah yeah!” or “Okay!” nothing was clear. What was clear, was that they were indeed speaking some form of English. This means that neither the Japanese nor English speaking attendees could comprehend the explanation for how a spectacle this deliriously illogical was allowed outside of an institutional space.
Look, there were lights under my feet.
Whose god sanctioned this?
For all its oddness, though, this is not a venture hastily slapped together. Robot Restaurant was lovingly crafted to be exactly in line with one single vision. That that vision seems the result of a life filled with anime, Pocky and crystal meth is inconsequential.
I would tell you what was happening in the above photo, but you know as much as I do.
Of course a conclusion must be reached. How, indeed, does one sum up such an experience. Giving it full thought, the answer is that one doesn’t. Robot Restaurant isn’t impossible to encapsulate, it’s simply not meant to be thought of that way. Meaning, it’s meant to be experienced.
If one is ever in or near Tokyo, it behooves them to visit. Because, simply, there is nothing like Robot Restaurant. In fact, at this point in time, there cannot be something like robot restaurant anywhere else in the world.
The business pitch for such a production, at least in America, would be met not only with blank stares but actual malice. Moneyed executives would throw paper Starbucks cups at you. Large security guards would shake their heads as they escorted you from office after mahogany-tabled office, your bag of action figures and glow sticks clicking at your side.
That being said, if Robot Restaurant continues to make money—as the packed show I was a part of seemed to denote—then maybe, just maybe, Robot Restaurant will make its way to Western shores. We can only cross our fingers and pray to giant lady-robot Jesus.
Eat before you go. The bento box is not bad, simply unnecessary.
Worth Every Yen
The ticket is $40. The beers are $5 a pop. The experience is unforgettable.
Basement Best Buy TV Section Bleacher Rave
A cozy alcove of glowing floors and chrome trim deep under the streets of Tokyo. Somehow, the perfect ambience.
Beer Keg Girl
To get beer, you flag down a girl with a keg on her back. Contemplate this.
EAT OR SKIP:
If you, for any reason whatsoever (maybe besides a funeral), are in or around Tokyo, Japan, go to Robot Restaurant. Even if you are not near Tokyo, go to Robot Restaurant. Maybe even if you are simply at a funeral, go to Robot Restaurant. Do not hold the funeral at Robot Restaurant. Simply go afterwards.